Mickey Rooney passed away at the age of 93.
Everyone knows Rooney, who died at the great age of 93, precisely because he lived so long, the tireless last surviving star of Hollywood’s 1930s Golden Age, a performer always ready to make an appearance when there was a crowd waiting to applaud.
But Rooney was more than just any star. In the final innocent prewar years of 1939, 1940 and 1941, he was the country’s biggest box-office attraction, period, end of story. And the actor reached that pinnacle not by being a dashing action hero lead or a glamorous romantic lead, but by playing a teenage boy, a character one contemporary critic called “the perfect composite of everybody’s kid brother.” Nothing says more than that about how America’s popular culture movie tastes have changed in the interim.
Rooney wasn’t just any teenager either, he was brash, exuberant, unstoppable, the kind of kid Americans once upon a time liked to feel was representative of this country at its good-hearted, irrepressible best.
Even British rocker Ray Davies and the Kinks, who in 1972 recorded “Celluloid Heroes,” their classic tribute to the stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, paid tribute to that quality by claiming, “if you stamped on Mickey Rooney, he would still turn round and smile.” Just so.
I loved him in any movie or TV show I saw him. But I think one of my favorite non-musical roles would have to be It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.